Caligula’s Horse aim big and deliver on their full potential with Charcoal Grace.

Release date: January 26, 2024 | InsideOutMusic | Bandcamp | Instagram | Facebook

As a seasoned veteran on the prog metal scene, I’ve been frankly pretty much done with vanilla prog metal recently. When I say vanilla, I mean bands that do not fuse their sound with other genres or tread into experimental territory, running by-the-books prog metal every time. Maybe I’d hear a cool album once in a while but I wasn’t really impressed by one in quite some time. Suddenly, Caligula’s Horse comes out with Charcoal Grace, not only one of their best efforts but my favorite prog metal album in a long time.

I’ve been a big fan of the Australian lads since the release of Bloom, an album that sucked me in and came out at the peak of my prog metal nerdiness. Ever since then, I saw huge potential in the band and thoroughly enjoyed everything they’ve put out since, so I was at least kinda hyped for Charcoal Grace. Even so, it blew my expectati0ns away, and while there is some recency bias on the play here, I’m gonna be brave and say they may have crafted an album that will (or at least it should) be considered be regarded as one the genre’s best in recent years.

“The World Breathes With Me” is a fantastic opener. When I listened to it for the first time, it made me think that Charcoal Grace may end up being truly special. And it is, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. Just like “Dream the Dead” from In Contact, they chose a semi epic song to get things started. A bold thing to do, because after you listen to it you think to yourself, ‘well now good luck on maintaining this level for the rest of the record‘, but they succeeded in doing so once again. Melodic and beautiful, it’s a captivating song that is some of the band’s best from the get go and sets the mood for the record perfectly.

The following track, “Golem”, is perhaps the weakest track on the record. It’s not bad or anything, but I think it was not a good enough follow up to the big epic opener. Also, I don’t really think it was the best choice as the first single for the record, as I feel it’s the most misplaced piece here – it sounds a bit more like the direction that Rise Radiant went with than what Charcoal Grace is doing. Still, it’s a perfectly serviceable song and its djenty riffing is welcome, it’s just that the rest of the album is better.

Something that struck me is how melodic the album is. Caligula’s Horse always were more on the melodic rather than technical side of prog, and when a band does that, it tends to come out as cheesy. That is definitely not the case here as the songs’ climaxes really hit the spot, due in no small part to the immensely talented vocalist Jim Grey. I also need to mention the absolutely excellent guitar work on display here by Sam Vallen. I rarely get moved by guitar solos anymore, but some of them actually got a big emotional response from me.

Now let’s talk about the big boy here, the title track itself. Divided into four movements, it’s the Aussies’ longest epic to day, and dare I say, their best. While I think the climax on “Graves” is a bonafide classic, “Charcoal Grace” is one of the best huge prog metal epics I’ve heard in quite some time. I used to be very impressed by these kinds of songs, but overtime most of them just felt like they were big just for the sake of it. This song, however, delivers on most of the things that make an epic work – being interesting all the way and having each act work by itself as well. There is a real sense of progression through its runtime, and each act has its own personal highlights and catharsis-inducing moments, making for a well rounded adventure all around. If like me, you were quite tired by epics nowadays, do not let this one scare you off, as every minute of this banger is worth your attention.

It’s kind of weird having your sprawling epic at the middle of the album, but Caligula’s Horse makes it work because the following songs do not drop the ball at all. It is followed by “Sails” which perfectly works as a breather after the big song, but it’s with “The Stormchaser” that the album reaches new heights. The song gave me goosebumps on the very first listen and instantly joined their hall of best songs ever. That chorus has a raw passion that the genre is missing these days, and I’ve had it on repeat for quite a while.

If the album ended here, I’d already be singing its praises. But boy, does “Mute” truly end things on a high note. Bringing the album full circle, it has callbacks to previous songs and together with the first track, functions as a perfect bookend. There’s not much else to say about it, other than I love it.

I know it’s still January, but man, I’m sure this will end up being one of my top albums of the year. I’ve been following Caligula’s Horse for almost a decade now and seeing their growth and maturity is something to behold. I truly think that Charcoal Grace officially cements them as one of the best prog metal acts right now, deserving of just as much love as Leprous or VOLA. I think its still a bit early to call it my favorite album by them, but may end up being so, in time. It’s a beautiful, epic record that hits all the spots a fan of the genre could ask for. Get on this one right now, please and thank you.

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